ALBANY – There were frequent moments of outrage and pleading during the public comment period after the state’s Cannabis Control Board [CCB] voted Tuesday to open up applications to grow, process or sell cannabis to the general public. The general public will be allowed to apply for licenses starting Oct. 4 and will no longer be limited to those prior marijuana convictions
The CBB’s meeting was the first since a state Supreme Court judge issued an injunction last month to temporarily suspend the approval of additional retail licenses. It also does not allow any more dispensaries to open. The next hearing on the case is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 15.
The public comment period lasted about two hours and at times grew heated as stakeholders expressed their frustration with state officials. Jeanette Miller, a Niagara County resident and co-chair of the Cannabis Farmers Alliance, went up to speak to the board while wearing a noose around her neck. She said the state’s failures had ruined her life.
“We relied on you and you relied on us and we totally did it. We put those seeds in the ground, we grew two years of great cannabis and we have nowhere to put it – 500 plus pounds sitting right now sitting and rotting right now and there’s nowhere to go for it,” Miller said. “We’re tired, we’re done, we’re struggling. We need help. You don’t answer. The only reason I get answers is because I call and I call and I call.”
The Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed into law by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the spring of 2021 and legalized adult-use recreational marijuana and established the regulatory process to develop the state’s cannabis industry. It originally sought to issue up to 150 retail licenses and had a goal to issue 50% of those licenses to social equity candidates. For example, those negatively impacted by the so-called “War on drugs” [also known as justice-involved], disabled veterans and minority and women-owned businesses. So far, the state has prioritized justice-involved licensees, but will soon no longer.
The lawsuit filed by four veterans with the state Supreme Court last month argues the state Office of Cannabis Management and the Cannabis Control Board established a process that essentially requires potential license holders to have a prior marijuana-related conviction in order to get a license and ignores the other groups.
Jeffrey Hoffman is a New York City-based attorney who hosts “Ask Me Anything about Cannabis Legalization in New York” each week on LinkedIn. Hoffman said the state’ solution cannot be to wait for the lawsuit to find the Conditional Adult-Use Retail Dispensary [CAURD] program unconstitutional.
“I’m an attorney and I’m telling you that’s what’s going to happen here. That is what is going to happen. And we gotta do a better job in crafting our regulations. They can’t be so susceptible to legal challenges,” Hoffman said. “I know this is difficult. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. It’s hard work, but we can’t do it the way we’re doing it. You’re hurting people tremendously. The very people who you are supposed to help. The CAURDs would have been better off if they had opened illicit stores.”
Several attendees called on the state Legislature to codify the CAURD program into state law. Hugos Rivas, a member of the Long Island Cannabis Coalition, called on state lawmakers to return to Albany for a special session to address this request. Hochul in recent weeks also floated the idea of a special session this fall to address several issues, including the state’s cannabis halt and the migrant crisis.
“We are asking for our state representatives to step up and have a special session to codify the CAURD program into law. It’s never too late,” Rivas said. “The same social equity that the state claimed by enacting the CAURD program faces substantial harm to themselves, their families, spouses, children in the community that they set out to support.”
Following the public comment period, CCB Chairwoman Tremaine Right, a former Assemblywoman, addressed the comments made before closing out the meeting.
“We do not speak during this section, because it is for public comment. It is for us to hear what you have to say and then we’re supposed to let that inform the work that we do. So, we don’t want you to think that this silence means that we’re not paying attention, most of us are taking notes and it is something that we refer back to,” Wright said. “But, thank you, because it is important to note a wide range of issues that you’re dealing with and we’re trying to make sure that we roll it into the work.”